Learning to run free and natural

Originally published in the Sun.

VIBRAM USA has reportedly been in the limelight lately as consumers are hitting the company with lawsuits for false advertising over its toe shoes.

The maker of the glove-like Vibram FiveFingers running shoes has agreed to settle a class-action suit against it that alleged the company made false and unsubstantiated claims about the health ­benefits of its footwear.

Vibram USA had jumped in to capitalise on the barefoot running boom that came about when Chris McDougall ­published a book entitled Born to Run in 2009.

I own a pair of Vibrams myself. It’s an awesome shoe that allows and mimics natural running like no other.

With a pair of Vibrams on, our feet could function in the normal manner which they were ­intended to and yet not be considered barefoot.

McDougall writes that the human foot was not designed for footwear. Modern running shoes with their elevated heel cushioning and high heels are what’s causing calve and foot muscles to weaken.

In Born to Run, McDougall tracks down members of the reclusive Tarahumara Indian tribe in the Mexican Copper Canyons.

A runner himself, ­McDougall marvels at the tribe’s ability to run ultra ­distances of over 26.2 miles or more at incredible speeds, without sustaining any of the ­injuries of most runners.

He asserts that modern cushioned running shoes, unlike the thin sandals worn by the Tarahumara ­runners, are a major cause of running ­injuries, pointing to the ­explosion of running-related injuries in modern times.

The secret of barefoot ­running is actually in the foot strike. Natural barefoot ­running stride lands on the forefoot or mid foot. The heel barely lands on the ground.

This method ensures that our foot lands gently on ground.

For most people who run heel-strike style, that would be hard to comprehend until you take off your shoes and run.

What McDougall and ­Vibram have done for the foot and running industry is truly a milestone.

Some may not realise it, but they helped change the way we look at running now, and more importantly for me, how we look at foot function.

Heel-strike shoes inhibit our ability to run naturally (forefoot strike) and alters our gait. That’s why runners are still sustaining injury with modern traditional running shoes.

However, it’s not the shoes that are the problem. It’s the training patterns and the way people run that create injuries.

Traditional running shoes with high-cushioned heels and motion-control midsoles are severely inhibiting our natural running form so bad that a high percentage of runners are getting injured.

Here is what I know is the truth about transitioning to running with forefoot/midfoot strike:

► Your feet and legs are going to be extremely sore, even after 10 minutes of running. From running heel strike since birth, forefoot running will be alien to your body. There will be a lot of pain.

► Adaptation takes time. Muscles need time to heal and adapt. Adaptation to a full forefoot strike run and, eventually, to marathon ­completions will take months to years.

► Old injuries incurred from heel strike will also take time to heal as well as new growing pains of switching to forefoot strike ­running.

► The first 10 steps of a child’s walk is done with caution and slowly. Do the same when you transition from heel strike to forefoot landing.

► Forefoot running may not be your thing. If you have been running heel strike with no problems, don’t re-invent the wheel.

Prior to running forefoot, I ­occasionally had knee pains and regular twisted ankles from runs. But I have no more knee pains since. I run free and natural these days.

Jonathan Tan is the Senior Sergeant of Rebel Boot Camp.

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